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Possessive for multi-word subjects

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

Ran into a somewhat common problem of adding a possessive to a multi-word subject with the following line:

... so those returning's spouses can see them.

Researching it, I discovered there are a whole set of rules about possessives I was never actually aware of, such as:
• when two people both possess the same thing (ex: Bob and Linda's car), you only add the possessive to the final person listed.
• when two people both own separate versions of the same thing (ex: Bob's and Linda's cars), you add the possessive to each of their names.
• the possessive is always added to the subject. If the subject is the last word of a multi-word phrase, then there's no problem, but (as in my initial case) it doesn't end with a suffix, then you need to change it using "of" (ex: "so the spouses of those returning can see them.")

And don't even ask about what happens when a plural phrase (i.e. "yous guys") needs a plural! (short answer: "yous guys" is an irregular construction, so all bets are off).

P.S. I went with:

... so spouses can see those returning.

thospend

You picked correctly..., Congratulations!

Remember to always sound out (say) the various combinations -- which is less awkward to say out loud?

And yes, there are a blue million rules about any language.

PrincelyGuy

So what is wrong with using "youse's guys" in that case?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@PrincelyGuy

So what is wrong with using "youse's guys" in that case?

Just apply thospend's advice.

robberhands

... the usual disclaimer

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

there are a whole set of rules about possessives I was never actually aware of

This part of grammar is not easy, and I'm about as confused as before after a careful review of the relevant sections (7.15 to 7.28) of that monster,

I can confirm CW is correct that different punctuation is needed for joint possession of the same thing and separate possession of similar things.

There's a typo, I assume, in this statement CW made.

If the subject is the last word of a multi-word phrase, then there's no problem, but (as in my initial case) it doesn't end with a suffix, then you need to change it using "of"

That only makes sense to me if the words 'a suffix' are changed to 'a subject'.

CW has identified one source of some problems. CMOS appears to suggest (I can't figure it out) the answer may depend on whether the word ending in -ing is a participle (functioning in this phrase as a noun) or a gerund (which has inherent properties as a noun). I'm not bothering going there.

CMOS appears to suggest that the possessive form would be okay if the subject is a proper noun or name.

* * *

My conclusion is that careful writers should avoid forcing anything to take the 's form of a possessive. As soon as anything begins to sound awkward (thanks @thospend :-) it becomes best to prefer the of form.

There are other awkward situations that may be best for too, for example, double possessives, singular words ending in a plural sound ...?

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